The ’90s were a Golden Age for television. While sitcom all-timers like Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier dominated the ratings and public consciousness, an influx of highly acclaimed network dramas and the beginning of premium networking with HBO rounded out the television renaissance that occurred between 1990-2000.
Though doing Thanksgiving-themed episodes was nothing new to the medium, many of the best series in the 1990s brought their own unique spins to their takes on the holiday. Though the collection is geographically bound to the U.S., the decade still produced a healthy stream of quality entries in the Thanksgiving episode canon.
10 Ally McBeal -“Troubled Water” (1999) – 7.3
One of many hits helmed by David E. Kelly, Ally McBeal took Kelly’s tried-and-true courtroom drama template and infused it with a strong sense of humor. The resulting series was a huge hit for FOX in the late ’90s, running a respectable five seasons before going off the air in 2002.
This season 3 episode features Thanksgiving as a centerpiece for the titular character and her friends to get together and stew in some juicy drama. A highlight episode in one of the weaker seasons of a great show.
9 Married With Children -“A Bundy Thanksgiving” (1996) – 7.6
One of the longest-running and influential sitcoms of all time, Married With Children gave America a glimpse into the hellish lives of the Bundy family for 11 seasons. Amazingly, the show didn’t full-on tackle Thanksgiving until the last season in 1996.
While the show had lost much of its original edge to its younger competition by its last lap, this episode helmed by star Amanda Bearse is one of the better installments in the season, especially when it comes to Christina Applegate’s performance as Kelly.
8 That ’70s Show -“Thanksgiving” (1998) – 7.8
That ’70s Show seemed like a gimmick at first. Who knew the show would turn out to be one of the most beloved of its era? Due to consistently clever writing and one of the best young sitcom ensembles ever assembled, the series managed to maintain constant popularity for the better part of its run with the original cast.
This episode is one of the funniest of the inaugural season as Kitty gets to steal the show for the first time in the series, while Eric has a silly side-plot involving Laurie’s attractive friend from college.
7 The Simpsons -“Bart vs. Thanksgiving” (1990) – 7.8
The Simpsons in many ways helped usher in the more sardonic style of humor that defined much of the decade’s output on that front. After debuting in 1989, the series truly hit its stride in the second season, finding its niche in the very new world of adult-animation.
The show’s first Thanksgiving episode centered around Bart’s misadventures after running away from home after Thanksgiving dinner. One of the best early examples of the show’s uncanny ability to combine poignantly melancholy moments of pathos and near-constant wit and slapstick silliness.
6 Felicity -“Thanksgiving” (1998) – 8.0
Before making waves in the prestige television ocean with her performance in The Americans, Keri Russell led this J.J. Abrams-produced comedy-drama about the titular character’s tenure at a well-regarded New York university.
Russell’s performance as a lovesick woman chasing her high school crush across the country showcased her ability to lead the ship, and this season one episode about Thanksgiving proved the show’s writing was both accessible and a clever step above the typical teen melodrama. Though everyone in the ensemble plans on leaving for the holidays, a series of unfortunate events lead to a heartwarming last-minute dinner between friends.
5 Seinfeld -“The Mom and Pop Store” (1994) – 8.1
Revered by many as the best sitcom of all time, Seinfeld infiltrated the public lexicon in a way not seen before. The show’s massive influence can still be felt in every subversive sitcom out there today trying to make it. Though the show never did any strictly holiday-themed episodes, holidays were usually weaved into the various plotlines of the relevant episode.
In this episode from Season 6, both the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and a “Pre-Thanksgiving party” play crucial and endlessly comedic parts in the episode’s web of embarrassment.
4 South Park -“Starvin Marvin” (1997) – 8.2
Quite possibly the show’s first majorly iconic episode, this Thanksgiving-themed installment of the classic button-pushing animated-sitcom is a great primer for newcomers as it showcases the genius-stupidity that South Park has become synonymous with. When the group of boys end up with the responsibility of the titular character, a starving Ethiopian boy, around Thanksgiving, absurdist antics reign.
Meanwhile, a flock of genetically enhanced turkeys decides to stand up for themselves. 22 minutes of gut-busting bad taste, “Starvin Marvin” is an early favorite in the long-running show.
3 Buffy The Vampire Slayer -“Pangs” (1999) – 8.3
Even by the standards of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, whose particular brand of camp often straddled the line of good taste, this Season 4 episode is a risky endeavor.
Taking the rare route of dealing directly with the horrors of colonialism, the installment follows the gang as they celebrate Thanksgiving in the company of a vengeful Native American spirit unleashed by Xander while working construction. Alternately sobering and impossibly bizarre, the episode marks one of the more controversial entries in the series (and this list).
2 Frasier -“A Lilith Thanksgiving” (1996) – 8.3
Out of the major network sitcoms that ran throughout the ’90s, Frasier perhaps tackled holidays the most. Numerous Christmas and Halloween installments have become fan-favorites in the eleven season run of the show.
However, this Thanksgiving episode is universally beloved as it brings Frasier and Lilith together for a comedy of errors that exemplifies the mixture of high brow and low brow humor that made the show such a wide-reaching success for so long. The B-Story, which features Martin and Niles entertaining Frederick, likewise packs a constant barrage of hearty chuckles.
1 Friends -“The One With All The Thanksgivings” (1998) – 9.2
Ah, Friends. You either love it or you hate it, but there’s no denying the massive cultural behemoth that the show was, and still is in streaming. Throughout the decade, a majority of the nation tuned in to see the six extremely good-looking “normal” New Yorkers joke their way through the ups-and-downs of single life.
Some of the show’s best-loved episodes featured the “flashback” technique, which was utilized to great acclaim in this Thanksgiving episode, one of several. As the gang takes turns explaining why they hate Thanksgiving, viewers are treated to a collection of memories of the friends in their youth. One of the best.
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